The Not Unreasonable Podcast

Mahbod Moghadam on Controversy

September 20, 2021 David Wright
The Not Unreasonable Podcast
Mahbod Moghadam on Controversy
Show Notes Transcript

Mahbod Moghadam is the co-founder of Genius (formerly Rap Genius), co-founder of everipedia.org, and co-founder of ozone.ai. 
My words but Mahbod helped build Genius by being a controversial guy online. Controversy does not make you universally loved and Mahbod has "had beef" with a whole slew of who's who in the tech business. Some of it was real, some of it was show, all of it was catnip for the press at the time!
Two brain surgeries and many years later and Mahbod strikes a very different tone about his life and approach to entrepreneurship. I wanted to talk to him because he's unique. I tried to steer the conversation towards Rene Girard's ideas which I thought might apply well to Mahbod's story. I still feel that way but it's hard to stay meta for long with Mahbod and we bounce in and out of his life narrative while covering the role of media in the construction of controversy, whether being controversial is a good idea even in retrospect, what it means to be an Iranian Jew in the tech startup world and don't worry, Mahbod hasn't jettisoned contrarian and original ideas entirely. 
Enjoy my ride with Mahbod!

Show notes: https://notunreasonable.com/2021/11/26/mahbod-moghadam-on-controversy/

David Wright:

My guest today is Mike Bode Moghadam, co founder of ozone.ai genius calm once called Rap Genius and ever pedia.org I am baffled and odd by my quote, I can say this in front of him, he has maintained a kind of authenticity and originality, which to me are very much the same thing, while also being rhetorically fearless at various points of his life, speaking his mind. So Mike Bode has been enormously polarizing figure on the internet. But I found him also very deeply self aware and self reflective, which is really interesting combination. And I kind of have a hard time comprehending how you can be authentic, open and self aware in public simultaneously. So it is with Mexico that I want to talk about conformity crowds and what Rene Girard calls minisas Georgia ideas I think, are really underrated and really interesting, and I'm very excited to explore them today with my vote is mcode amine immune to minisas. Hell, let's find out my boat. Welcome. Yo, how's it going? So my first question is, have you ever been a scapegoat?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Ah, you know, I felt that way. But it's nothing like that crazy.

David Wright:

What made you feel that way? So like, you know, you've encountered, you know, you could argue that your exit from the startups others that you founded, or at least from genius, anyway, wasn't necessarily triggered entirely by your own actions. I don't know. Like, you know, I could imagine that there were instances where you felt oppressed? I don't know, what's the right word like it. Tell me more about this.

Mahbod Moghadam:

So when the genius beef happened, I've, I felt like I'm getting treated bad. But at the same time, I realized I'd done something wrong. My the one quibble I had was my, quote, unquote, wrong behavior had actually been egged on one point, it was good for getting traction. Yeah. And once we got the money started to not be good anymore. Right, then. What's made me a lot saltier is what's happened in genius the past couple of years, where basically genius has 100% double down on only being rap music and its Rap Genius, right? So I like one of the big fights I was in after we got the money from Ben Horowitz from genius, was everyone was like, Oh, this is cultural imperialism, wire white guys, running black culture. I was like, first of all, I'm not white, my co founders are white. Second of all, we want to expand to Bible and poetry. I put more work into Bible and literature than I did on rap. When I was working in jeans. That was my goal. I want it someday, I want everyone to be gathered around Bible genius. And one of the Bible kids is like, you know, originally, this site was only for rap lyrics. The way they do rap, like, you know, I wanted us to be that big. But now that we've doubled down on this, I'm kind of agreeing with these hipster Pitchfork critics who are talking shit in 2012. Which is why I've been calling for my co founder to resign, my co founder is still the CEO. He doesn't know anything about rap. He's like totally clueless. I'm sure none of the staff respects him. But for some reason, he won't resign now that, you know, I wrote these articles, and I've been on all these podcasts and stuff, it's starting to get traction. I called for Kanye West to become CEO. It seems like he's definitely knows about it seems like you know, hopefully, he's showing some interest in it. his fans are definitely into it. And my SEO is just completely quiet. I guess. He's like, waiting for it to blow over or whatever. But it's like, no, I left when it was inappropriate. So now, if you don't want me to feel like a scapegoat, you need to do the same thing. Like I i manned up, I could have sued when I left. I had a lawyer who wanted me to sue. didn't even want to charge me. I didn't do it because I cared about our product. So I decided that even if it's going to benefit me financially, even if I do feel wrong, I'm going to take the owl and I'm going to do what's best for my baby for this thing that I built. So now I need the CEO to do the same thing. The President did it. The President is married to the CEO of the wing. She got kicked out of the wing last year, because she there were complaints about her being racist. So then the CEO after my article came out, my article was kind of inspired by Audrey resigned. After that the CEO made the president resigned. And I guess he thought that would be enough. He's like, Okay, we got rid of the President. Like, you know, are you satisfied now? where it's like, No, you need to To buddy, because you're the one who knows absolutely nothing about rap. Like, the President at least had like, a mild interest in rap. He was like a hip hop head. But the whole reason we made the site is because the CEO knew absolutely nothing about rap. And then one night, I was explaining rappeler 10. And that's when he got the light bulb in his head.

David Wright:

So it seems to me like that large changes like that tend to be catalyzed by, you know, being impacted. This Girard idea is a mob, right? So when enough people get upset or excited enough about a perceived problem, then somebody's got to go. Right, heads must roll. And, you know, have you hit you know, like, do you feel like maybe that your own departure from there was such an example, right to deflect criticism, perhaps in some way from an organization?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Mine wasn't as much mob, I guess there was some mob stuff to it, but mine was more connected to press, there's two mobs, there's the people and there's the press.

David Wright:

Okay.

Mahbod Moghadam:

I obviously have way more respect for the people, because the press, you know, I'm someone who, I hate the New York Times, I think that there's fake news. I think there's a lot of shady stuff going on. So what I'm the press has always been against me, the people I don't think had that much of an issue with me. I hope not. I guess there was some beef with me on Twitter. But now for getting genious switch to what I want it to be, you know, with someone, a hip hop expert, someone who knows hip hop culture running yet, I'm not getting a lot of help from press. So that's why I'm trying to get it get get basically geniuses fans to demand to understand what I'm calling for and to agree with it the same way that same way I feel about it.

David Wright:

It's interesting to do the press right, because the press seems to me like the thing they like best is to be at the beginning of one of these popular cascades, right? That is that that generates the views, and that gives them prominence. So it feels to me like the presser you know, your point there about kind of having beef with the press periodically. I mean, man, I've seen it right. I've gone through the gold Gawker archives and seen some of the stuff like that they write. In particular, although Gawker is maybe a little bit unusual example, Walker's finish. Thank goodness. Yeah, yeah. It's what happens, right? When you take it a little bit too far. And it's still though, seems like the incentives are there. Right. So the press was trying to generate this kind of controversy. And I suppose like, they are discerning in a certain way, like they pick enemies, right. They definitely do. I mean, that one of the things that, that I noticed is, you know, maybe over time, the increasing bias of the various press outlets, and you know, people tend to think of that mostly, and kind of like the left, right political spectrum. But I mean, if that's possible, surely bias, I get to have a vendetta against anybody, right? I mean, in principle, right, and you've sort of felt this way? How do they pick? Do you know, like, do you know where it starts? Or what?

Mahbod Moghadam:

I think it's frustrated. So one thing that's interesting is the president of genius resigned because of my article, and there's been no press coverage of that. There's what one reporter tweeted about it. And then all I do, I'm always hitting up all the hip hop websites. I'm like, why are you covering that the leader of genius left, because the co founder said that he's racist. And no one's been covering, I mean, you know, some indie stuff has been covering it, but I'm still just waiting for the news of this to get out. And it's crazy how just like repetitiously, they removed him, like they got rid of his LinkedIn, they got rid of all of the social media.

David Wright:

And you once who probably were, you know, you mentioned in reference to a minute ago, like you sort of made a career of surfing the press in a certain way, right. I mean, my impression and he told me what you think about this, of the value you brought to what was then Rap Genius in its kind of developmental curve was generating publicity generating interest. Right. So how is it that you're having trouble doing that now? Do you do you have like a mental model for what you were doing differently back then?

Mahbod Moghadam:

I think that certain genius related topics, the press is blacklisted from cover. It's really messed up like the press is supposed to be all woke and stuff. But at the other time, like that's the thing a lot of these like woke liberal types are actually the biggest racists of all. Perfect example is the Biden administration or like Biden himself. I think this guy's like one of the most racist people who's ever been president in this country. And then he tries to pretend that he's like, he's woke and stuff. So it's the same kind of precedent. So the funny thing is back then I wanted to be friends with these types of people like all of these hipster Gawker writers and Pitchfork so that way I got into trouble with Gawker. Like, the way I became such a focal point of their hatred was I I wanted to be friends with Sam Biddle. He's the guy who got into trouble in the attic. They had to shoot cannon, but I thought he was funny. I thought that he would write like very well researched articles. So for example, right after I had my brain surgery, he was one of the first people by message. I was like, Listen, this is why I've been starting fights. I just had a brain tumor. And then I thought he's at least gonna write something like, Hey, you know, this guy. He's kind of nuts, but he just had brain surgery. And then he turned around, and he wrote an article saying that I faked my brain surgery. Yeah, like, how can you do like, I just came out of the hospital, and he wrote this thing. And the nice thing is, all my enemies get crushed. Like it made me so happy when Sam Biddle got into trouble with GamerGate. And then now he's basically done. His career is done. Gawker totally finished. shouts out to Peter teal, who's probably renamed your arts biggest fan?

David Wright:

Yes. He's the reason why I, you know, how I came to know about that whole body of thinking in a Peter teal, you know, he emphasizes as the Gerard this idea of his whole being violent, right? So people, people, somebody, something starts, there's a rivalry that begins, and then we just sort of copy each other's attacks on each other. And then we forget about the thing we were fighting over. And now we're just fighting it and now becomes just a beef forever perpetual.

Mahbod Moghadam:

He's a good dude. Yeah, I've tried to meet him so many times. I've never been able to meet him. You know, we both went to the same school and stuff. But he was he was in the running to be a genius investor. And the thing that he wanted genius to do is the thing that ultimately got us into trouble. It got me into trouble and also got the site into trouble. He wanted the web annotator and news genius because basically, he had beef with Gawker. That's basically the way Peter teal got connected with genius is pretty interesting. It was through me. Biology, who now is like, you know, the most powerful guy on the internet, but at that point, this was in 2013. He had just joined Andreessen Horowitz, his general partner. So he came to the genius office very important day in my life so we went to lunch together The first thing he told me he's like, dude, buy bitcoin. You know, if you have any money, buy bitcoin. So I was like, I just I looked at him and like, you know, he has like these piercing green eyes. So I was like, Okay, I'm doing whatever this man said. And then, Nas NAS was an angel investor in genius he invested before Ben Horowitz. So then he goes, by the way, Peter teal wants me to ask you, can you tell NAS to make a diss song about Gawker? Okay, I remember I messaged NAS about it. He was like, What the fuck are you talking about? And I still wants it. But you know, that didn't happen. He didn't care. Then the reason he got so Balaji really, really helped us. He made us put together a pitch deck. All this stuff, the pitch to Peter Thiel, we ended up going with Dan Gilbert instead, because he gave us such a sweet offer. But he was really into the whole news genius thing, and also to have a web annotator. Like he basically wanted to be able to write annotations on Gawker articles. And that's the thing that ultimately got us in trouble. This was after I left after I left, this girl wrote a ridiculous article about how web annotator can be used to bully her. And then like this idiot Congress person had her back. So then they just shut down all of the web annotator. They shut down all of the verticals, my back only music. And nowadays, it's basically only rapping and also an interesting fact. When Balaji came to the genius office The first time I went to lunch with him. When we gave came back from lunch. I tried to introduce him to the CEO. And this guy is a general partner at the firm that just gave us $15 million. Yeah, I remember Tom the CEO, his reaction was basically like, I can't talk I gotta go, I gotta go. And why? Because biology is not white biology was Indian. So you basically instantly decided I'm not going to talk to minority person. This guy is not important enough. And he didn't even believe me that biology is a general partner. At Andreessen Horowitz, he was like, No, you got this wrong you either. Now the next time we were hanging out with Ben Horowitz we were done or was his house? I said, by the way, Ben, can you tell Tom that Balaji actually is a general partner at Andreessen. And Ben goes, biology is the next Einstein. He's brilliant. And Tom was kind of like, blown away. He's like, Wow, so I should have actually taken that guy seriously. Like, you know, I thought he's a minority. So this is why I'm like, we need to get rid of this guy. We've just got like, a rampant racist who's running the biggest black culture website in the world?

David Wright:

Do you think that like, you know, do you think that there's a, here's something I notice about you? Right? you're passionate guy. And it feels to me like, you have to have that. You know, if anything, you know, I would say, you know, I tend to prefer crimes of passion, right. So like people who overdo the passion side, as opposed to overdo kind of an indifference or coolness side. But the incredible thing to me, is this idea possibly that somebody can build an amazing company and not be passionate about it. Like, where does that? How does that how does that happen? How does it happen? How do you interpret that? For me?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Know, the passion is really, really important. It's important to drink the Kool Aid. Yeah. During it's funny, because back in the genius days, the CEO always agreed with me about this stuff, we would always tell like when we were giving pitches to investors and stuff, we would talk about how all of the executives of Philip, Philip Morris were smokers. That's why they've been successful if they actually thought of themselves as merchants of poison. So now, I don't know why he just doesn't follow where I'm going with this, like, at the time, why we thought it's okay, what we're doing is because we thought we're going to expand into all of these other verticals. But now that it's a hip hop culture website, like he can't possibly think that he's drinking the Kool Aid. So it's funny, like I used to think of, not just myself, but my co founders, as well as being ultra passionate, I thought I really, really doing. But then now the passion is gone for them, I still have the passion. But then again, I'm the only one who actually was a hip hop fan. But even I don't think that I'm qualified to be the CEO. Aside from all the controversies I've gotten into, I don't even think that my involvement in hip hop culture is enough for me to be the genius CEO. Also, I would never want to be the CEO of anything, but we need someone you know, kinase my top choice, but then I made a list of the top five choices I have, like, someone like Puff Daddy, someone like forelle, who's one of our angel investors. Someone you know, if you want a business person, someone like the guy who runs the source. There's a lot of good people who could make this into world class. Also my dream so if Kanye becomes the CEO, I thought what could be cool is that genius can become a record label. Kind of like you know Kanye, how to tweet storm about how much he hates record labels. And he said he wants something to be like Y Combinator for rappers the same way that Y Combinator started getting fair, transparent deals for tech entrepreneurs do the same thing for rappers. I think the best platform to build this on would be genius. Everyone loves genius. You know, right now ozone is my full time job. But still, every day, I get several rappers message me on Instagram, like, hey, let me get an interview on genius. So that's basically how you know you've arrived as a rapper is when we give you the yellow screen interview. So let's turn that into a record label. I want to see genius record, that's something that I would be ultra ultra passionate about. And I'd be I'd be giving I mean, I'm already getting the site my full 100% support, but then I'd be giving 150% support. The one thing we're trying to do right now is live construct genius live to Good idea. Like again, if I was running it, I could, I could do all kinds of cool stuff with it, but there's no passion, they basically did three shows, not none of them, none of them even with particularly interesting artists. And then since then, just quiet.

David Wright:

So like, I feel like there's potentially a world of, you know, insufficient, you know, like think about like any kind of art form and so you're going from you know, like a content creation from audiences are, you know, anonymous people to like being deliberately creative. Right, I'm probably are just getting a step closer because now you're selecting artists and you're trying to make pics about who's going to be good and your record label and all the rest of So to me, it seems like that's a that is itself a creative act. And I don't see how you can you know, coming back to you know, I think I'm taking in you tell me if I'm wrong taking the ascent of genius Rap Genius at the time very seriously where you had passion. You had you had controversy. Right. And I think that any creative endeavor requires a little bit of pushing the boundaries. I think otherwise, you're not, you know, how do you know? How do people? Why would they take interest in something that's not a little bit different? And, and kind of, you know, making mistakes or something like that? So but how do you how do you generate that? Like, where does it come from, like, you know, for you, as a passionate person, like, where do your passions come from? Like, how do you? How do you factor that you just got to pick new people? Like, what do you do?

Mahbod Moghadam:

I don't, I don't think that the controversy tag is necessary. Like some of the stuff that I did a lot of like, you know, so right now, every morning when I wake up, I used to never look at Facebook memories, because I didn't want to remember the past it was too painful. Really, ever since quarantine started every day, I'm looking at my Facebook memories, and then I'm deleting all this stuff that I'm embarrassed

David Wright:

that right?

Mahbod Moghadam:

There's still a lot of crap. Like I'm really stupid shit that, you know, knock on wood. I hope I'm not gonna say stuff like that anymore. But then they were encouraging me that the time we thought all press is good. So I was just trying to get in the press. But I don't think so. I mean, the thing is no other tech tech startups are really controversial. What else did what I did so and like, you know, Instagram, Instagram has the most vanilla founder of all time, and they're the biggest app. So I think that I was overreacting. But again, it's not my fault. I'm the scapegoat. At the time I was I was just being doing what we mutually agreed was the right thing to do.

David Wright:

Is that right? So so there's like, there was an explicit strategy to like you say all press is good press. I mean, hey, you're not the first person to say that. That's a fairly no such thing as bad publicity. That's a very common sentiment. And you're saying you don't think that's true?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Yeah, well, also talking shit gets you press. That's why you know, in rap, I thought I had a carte blanche to start beef, because in rap battles and beef are one of the main vehicles for a cent of artists.

David Wright:

Is that right? Yeah. Okay.

Mahbod Moghadam:

It's Tupac and biggie. That's why so like, you know, the first time I got into trouble was because I was trying to start shit with Mark Zuckerberg. Okay, and I actually have a lot of respect for him. Now that I'm involved in cryptocurrency stuff. Everyone in cryptocurrency hates Mark Zuckerberg, I'm the only one who's like still defending him. But the reason why I was trying to start the beef, so first of all, he actually showed love to genius like at first he said, some encouraging messages. He's he signed up for an account, he told us that he uses the site a lot. We had dinner with him all this stuff. So I think eventually, he would have even bought genius, but at the time, I was very impatient. Why isn't he just buying us? Why is he making an offer? Also, remember, like, you know, it sounds like God. Doctor said, I'm using it as an excuse. But I mean, I had a frickin brain tumor, you know, so I wasn't 100% 100% there. I'm still not that, you know, at least now the tumor is gone.

David Wright:

How did that influence like, what do you remember? Like, is there a specific way that you know that it affected your behavior?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Because like, Yeah, I don't have a control group. I didn't live life without a tumor. But obviously, the scary thing if you think about it, it was just like a big mass in my brain. That's crazy. Yeah. twice, right. And then I started the beef with Doug I thought this could actually make us closer friends, because he'd been, quote, kind of cool with us. Like, you know, he'd gone to dinner with us. But for example, I originally got into trouble because at the dinner, I took a photograph of him with knots. I posted him talking to naus on the rap, genius, Instagram, right? He made me take the photo down, I had to write him a letter of apology. So it's kind of like playing hard to get. I thought that if I start beef with him, maybe that'll make him want to be our friends more. And also, you have to remember like, we were always trying to milk the fact that we had all gone to Yale. So I was trying to get into like a Harvard versus Yale beef, kind of like Ivy League Biggie versus Tupac. Okay. So there you go. That's that's basically what got me into

David Wright:

Did you have a reason to believe that that would work, like I mean, where'd the idea come from? Like, had you done something like that before and how to be successful?

Mahbod Moghadam:

I was straight up thing I was right. You can be the nerd Biggie and Tupac. Let's have you know, let's have zog be the nerd biggie. And I'm going to be the nerd Tupac.

David Wright:

Yeah. Are there other examples of that kind of thing working? By the way, maybe I maybe I should have thought about that. A little bit. deeper because Biggie and Tupac died. Yeah, I mean, didn't end well for them. And, you know, nor for a whole lot of people around them. Right, you know, you know it, you know, back to this kind of again, and we can touch on Gerard once in a while here, like, I think that the idea of of, you know, conflicts spiraling out of control, right. But yet, we're still fascinated by it. I guess that's the mechanism like, what, what makes what makes the no such thing as bad publicity? saying true? Right, that that, you know, you maybe felt the benefits of bad publicity? I mean, in what way? Is it true?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Well, we have one guy who got elected to President off of ship and doing stupid shit. Sure. And right, so when Trump got elected, a lot of people were hitting me up, they're like, Oh, my God, Trump is just like you like, you know, Trump learned Trump learned how to tweet from you. And I didn't like Trump. You know, immediately like I I judge people a lot based on like, if they're healthy, like, you know, just like we were talking about our diets and stuff, I care a lot about health. So like, Trump for me like this disgusting, ogre, trash addicted to Adderall addicted to diet coke. Eating the unhealthiest diet, so I just hated this guy. So when people were saying that Trump reminds me of them, I remind them of Trump or Trump, Trump. You have some kind of similarity that was a wake up call to me, because I was like, I don't want anything like that. And the reason he got elected president is at least he's real. Like, I think he's funny. Some people think he's funny. I don't think anything. He says his rallies, at least when I was talking Should I like to think some of my shoe talking was funny. Like, he's never fun. Yeah, but you got to like the president, because at least he's not just like a fake hypocrite. You know, Joe Biden, deep dive inside, I think that Joe Biden is just as bad if not worse. And then now we're back to just having a fake ass. But it uh, I think people people kind of figured out that even though Trump is a bad guy, there might be something good about him just being real. And for him being open on the internet, I think the number one person who picked up on it is AOC. And a lot of people think of her as like the left wing Trump. Although she's kind of toned it down. Like she stopped doing some of the crazy stuff on the internet that made her so lovable.

David Wright:

Well, that's the kind of that's kind of maybe I don't know, maybe that's sort of what I'm getting at here is that we are drawn to this, right. And I think you're right about the word using the word real, you know, there's authenticity. People are used to seeing folks censor themselves and not do that. Right. Like, internet conversations between people who have something to lose does not sound like private conversation. Right? It's where people just say stuff, you know, you just bs with each other. You know, there's not really any consequences. You know, maybe I mean, there are consequences, of course, the same dumb things in front of people who say the wrong thing. You know, we've all done it. But on the internet, you know, like, we wind up creating, manufacturing this process where like, they say, for you, there is you go through this period of time, where you are saying what you feel like you are being authentic and real. And then maybe you're overdoing reality? I don't know. Right? So you're probably saying things you don't mean, like the beef with Zack for him strategically. But then you pull back, right? Like you're saying with those memories, you regret it all the time you I mean, it's not like you did it all when you were drunk or something, I would guess. So like, there was something there that made you feel the urge to do that. And then now that's gone. And now your tone down. And the thing that I want to really kind of understand is which ones which ones like, I know what's right and wrong, right? I know that you're not supposed to make fun of people. I know that you're not supposed to do bad things. I know that you know, like you can be you can be insensitive and you can put people down that's all wrong. I get all that was wrong, but in other sense, people love it. And so a new kind of weird way it's I don't know Is it is it also needed like, you know, what a world without that stuff be a better world.

Mahbod Moghadam:

Yeah, well, it's good. It's what you want to do is you want to do the good parts and avoid the bad parts. Aren't I was experimenting with being real on the internet. Like, you know, I'm one of the founders of being real on the internet. Yeah, so hindsight is 20. I learned a lot from my mistakes. But some of it is going to be here to stay, for example, brand accounts. I think that you know, early internet provocateurs like me, like, you know, Milo was hot for a while before he got canceled. We have an influence on corporate brands, like Rap Genius. When I was running the Rap Genius Twitter, that was the first corporate account that was just saying crazy off the wall stuff. Interesting. liked it. And then the first one to mimic us was Danny Denny's. I remember Denny's. Right? Yeah, right around the time that we got the $15 million from Ben Horowitz they did this thing where like some kid his kid tweeted like, I want some nugs. I want some nugs from Danny's like nuggets. But then he's talking about weed. So they were like, get this man is nugs. And then it went viral. Everyone was loving it. So that started the trend of a lot of brands hire comedian to run their Twitter.

David Wright:

Yeah. Yeah,

Mahbod Moghadam:

I mean, the link. Like sometimes I see brand tweets that I'm like, Whoa, this guy is getting fired. I think being like comedian who's running a brand. Twitter is like the olden. Like, you know, in the Middle Ages being a court jester, where like, the king King loves you, but on the other hand, make the wrong joke, and you're dead. Yeah.

David Wright:

So that's, I think we're onto something here because I think your link to comedy, I think is right on the money. Right. So comedians, their whole job is to try to walk that line between, you know, speaking kind of like inconvenient or uncomfortable truths in a way that, you know, like, it's funny, because it's true, right? And then not offending so many people that they get canceled or something, I guess, I mean, is that just the art form? of it?

Mahbod Moghadam:

No, what I am like, that's the funny part is I consider myself an artist and a comedian. I'm more of a writer than entrepreneur. And I've been getting into trouble for this misunderstanding. Since even before route genius. I remember I was supposed to work for Warren Buffett. And then Warren Buffett fired me before I even got to Omaha because he discovered my blog. And my blog was a bunch of like poems and like literature stuff. I was basically trying to be the Persian Bret Easton Ellis.

David Wright:

Okay. And then, you know, I think that you touched on another point there, which I wonder, maybe you could reflect on this. So you are an incredible ethnographic combination. Persian Jew, right. I mean, when I first heard that, it blew my mind. I mean, talk about, you know, layers of kind of historical persecution. You know, it isn't the United States for that matter. You know, and to me, it didn't feel all that surprising that you wind up being kind of a contrarian, subversive sort of figure a comedian, let's say with that kind of background, because, I mean, where does where does, where does the group of your people, where are they own? You know, nowhere near here? I mean, is there one, right, like, your home country, or rather than the country of your ancestry? I think you're born in United States, right. Hate to put it mildly. The country of you're kind of, you know, you're kind of like sectarian heritage. I mean, that's crazy.

Mahbod Moghadam:

Yeah, we have no home Persian Jews. It's that's kind of what I studied in college. I think that might be part of why we get into so much trouble. It's not just me who's making trouble the Tinder guy who's also a big troublemaker, he's Persian to Izzy. The difference is he's a rich Persian Jew, I'm a fourth version are called 310. They live in Beverly Hills. I'm 818 I live in. I'm from the valley. Okay, because most of us live in LA. No One No one knows. No one knows how many Persian Jews there are. No one knows where they're actually located. But it seems to me like probably, if I had to guesstimate I'd say about half of us are in Los Angeles. And the other big centers, there are some in Israel. And the ones in Israel face discrimination, although they don't face as much discrimination as Arabs, Arab Jews. Summer still in Iran, but supposedly, like only the really, really rich ones are actually in Iraq, because like anyone, anyone who had only the stuff about a lot, only the ones who had a lot of stuff to lose, bothered to stay there. Everyone else just got scared like my family did, and they move to LA. But part of it is that we don't have a home, like Iran has no one. So Iran does have a history of Persian Jews like that Purim last week was Peru. Correct. The story takes place in your eyes with the Persian king, and he's got one advisor who wants to kill all the Jews, but he decided that he likes the Jews. So there was always a connection. It's funny actually, the dad the the village my dad grew up in that was one of the villages that had a lot of the Jewish population. And they had a shrine, and the shrine was supposed to hold Queen Esther's crown. So that was like the place that everyone would go to worship. But that's not where you know the Iranian Jews haven't been there since that the Purim days. Most of them never came like so my family perfect example of where Iranian Jews came from. My dad's grandparents came from Russia. And my mom's grandparents came from Spain. And the reason they chose the wrong is because in the 18 hundred's Iran was actually one of the most Jew friendly countries in the world. Really, it was. Iran had a king for about 75 years, the same thing. And he was a do nothing King. Like he really just didn't give a fuck. So it kind of became he was like the Calvin Coolidge of Iran. But that kind of just became a place especially that's when Russia was having the pogroms Russia in the 18 hundred's basically tried to do the Holocaust. They just weren't good enough. Good enough at it. So that's why my dad's family moved to Iran was they escaped the pogroms. So now we just don't have a home. Like is la Our home is Iran Our home is you know, Spain and Russia are home is Israel or home. It's just kind of like we're homeless. And and that's why it's a very toxic culture, especially in LA, where basically there's a TV show about it called Shahs of sunset, where we're, we're famous for being famous for being wealthy. And like, you know, Beverly Hills, which is the famous rich suburb of LA is like 50%, Persian Jews, but everyone hates us. Everyone just thinks of us as being nouveau reish. Wearing garish clothes, too much makeup. Like, you know, tasteless sports cars, including me, like at this point, one of the reasons I moved to New York because I basically decided, I don't want anything to do with Asian culture,

David Wright:

really. So like, tell me the cultural identification like la Persian culture, Jewish culture. Where do you you know, if you were to like, kind of allocate your allegiance, not allegiance, that's the wrong way. Because you can, you know, I'm from a small town for a period of time I rejected that. You know, I don't have nearly as interesting a biography as you but I hated it for a while, but it was still who I was. And you run from it, but it's still You are so like, Who are you? Which which culture do you identify with?

Mahbod Moghadam:

I am American through and through its way. So I had an edit war on my Wikipedia page. I hate my Wikipedia page. Because I started competitor to Wikipedia. I started the competitor Wikipedia, because they wouldn't let me have Wikipedia. Then they made me a Wikipedia. But then obviously, they made it really, really mean. I've been complaining about it. I've been saying I'm going to sue because they won't delete it. I don't want it. I don't want to have a Wikipedia. So now they've been nice. They started making me some edits. And then one edit that I recently won is they had me listed the first sentence was malcode is an Iranian American internet, internet entrepreneur. I didn't want it to be Iranian Americans. I'm like Iranian American. Sounds like I was born in Iran.

David Wright:

Yep.

Mahbod Moghadam:

And naturally, I changed it to American. Yep, then. So apparently, I'm on the list of Iranian Americans. I'm on the Wikipedia is List of notable Iranian Americans. So some Iranian went back they found a source an interview where I referred to myself as an Iranian American. They cited that change the back to Iranian American I was like, okay, you in, you know, I said it. But then someone on the talk page agreed with me, someone was on the talk page was like calling him an Iranian American makes it sound like he was born in Iran. So then, it was reverted. So now so right now my Wikipedia calls me an American and I'm very happy about I love America. You know, I went to law school. The main thing law school taught me is the corporation. I think the corporation is one of the biggest advances in human sight. It's caused a lot of problems like you know, corporations are responsible for all this environmental damage. We're sending the world to check you know, turning the world into a fireball. We're all gonna die from global warming. But the Corporation was the first time that humans tried to come together to work as something bigger than the individual. I guess the nation state is kind of like that too. But the nation state never got into people's lives the way that corporations did. Everyone thought so like, you know, you read George Orwell's 1984 he thought there's gonna be like totalitarianism. That's not what happened. Basically, what we have is corporate totalitarianism. But I'm cool with that. I still like for example, I would never be able to build something like genius or ever pedia. Ozone by myself, just because, you know, I'm, I'm kind of nuts, I'm running all over the place, I'm saying crazy shit. But then a corporation lets me contribute my worth and be part of the greater whole, which is why I was able to build these things. And then corporations are all American, like nowhere else in the world even has corporations like Europe pretends to have them. But Europe's corporations usually there's just one rich family who de facto runs it. Chinese corporations, it's usually just part of the government that's allowed to run privately kind of like how Boeing is in America. So only America has like these actual bonafide corporations. And then we have Delaware corporate law, which that's, that's why our corporations are able to do stuff like you know, building Facebook and Google and Amazon. Also, it's kind of connected to cryptocurrency, like if you think about it, on the one hand, cryptocurrency is there to destroy corporations. But if you look at it from a historical perspective, corporations were the first step towards getting rid of oligarchs?

David Wright:

Well, it's volunteer organization, right? So nation states are compulsory, they got the guns, and you do what they say, at the end of the day. Right. And corporations, you know, quit your job. Don't buy Coke, right? Drink water, whatever, right? I mean, you can still choose

Mahbod Moghadam:

for me, nation state Corporation crypto, right. And like kryptos The thing I'm pushing now I want it to evolve even further. But the corporation is what got it all started. Yeah, it is. It's, it's taking it away from at least you know, not not just relying on state violence for power.

David Wright:

Let's bring it back to this idea of like constraint though, right. So and I think of so we have let's say, you know, these urges, right, let's call it the authentic trolling. You know, the, the comedian's urge to stir shit up. And then, but we're constraint, right? We have these rules, we have morals we have. I don't know, people tell us what to do. And we listen, we self censor ourselves. And, and let's just, you know, if there's such a thing as bad publicity, then the publicity is drive is another control mechanism of social control mechanism to try and stop you from saying something stupid, or, you know, giving you bad Facebook memories. And if those in religion, does that, too likely was one of the things that go back to Gerard that he points out, is that one of the whole main points of certainly Christianity yet, and unless so other religions are there, I think that's evolved over the course of the whole Judeo Christian tradition is that we have this idea of, of stopping the, the cycle of violence, with sacrifice and with understanding and loving these things. And so religion exists to try and stop us from converting each other. Right? many religions, and these institutions are coercive institutions are in the press, for example, they're all trying to like constrain us. crypto is the opposite, right? crypto is an unconstrained institution. So it's saying do what you want. And, you know, when you imagine, though, that a world that is run without institutional constraint would just run amok? You know, like, wouldn't all the data no scapegoating, the like, do we really want the mob with no authority?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Well, I don't think that's why I don't think that full decentralization, like the nr co libertarian vision of crypto is never going to happen. I believe in compromise, like I'm a Hague alien. I think that there's always going to be thesis antithesis, and then they form together to synthesis. Yep. That's kind of like what happened with the Internet. The Internet was, you know, crypto is part two of the internet. And internet, for me is like, that's my life. That's basically what I'm doing with my life. It gave people a lot more freedom. One thing that's good about the internet is that it's messing up media's stranglehold. Like, you know, I hate the New York Times, I hated the new york times since I was in college. New York Times is still powerful. They're still a force of evil, but at least they're running out of money now. So like, overall, I feel like I'm winning the battle against the New York Times. And a lot of that is because of the internet, the internet. It's just democratized journalism.

David Wright:

So what did you not like about the new york times then now as it changes a different thing, what was the thing that you don't like?

Mahbod Moghadam:

I don't like that. They hire someone full time to be a blogger. Being a blogger should be a stay at home part time job. And a lot of people should be doing it and only if they write something It's viral and hot. should it go to a mass audience?

David Wright:

So what's the problem with that? They're like,

Mahbod Moghadam:

Why Does that hurt? Thomas Friedman gets the blog. It's just some crap that he wrote, when he's sitting in bed the same as, like, when I'm writing my Facebook posts. And everyone pays attention to this guy. Like, he's not that smart. You know, on the one hand, you know, I read, I read the Lexus and olive tree. I, you know, I respect that book. He's got some things that I think are good. Like, 90% of the stuff he writes is crap. He probably even thinks it's crap. Like, sometimes he probably is thinking himself, Oh, God, I don't want to write anything this week. But what am I going to do? They're paying me 200k a year, got to earn my paycheck.

David Wright:

Because what is it about the New York Times that makes that bad?

Mahbod Moghadam:

A New York Times is just the biggest media. They're the ones who pay their reporters the most. They're the ones who give their reporters the most, like a sense that they're the king. They're the ruler. They're just very, very obnoxious.

David Wright:

See, what I'm trying to get at here is this, like, you know, they have an audience, big one, right. And that gives them authority power. But then sort of many other, you know, like, to me like the is the problem, this institution called the New York Times, let's say, you kill the New York Times, hypothetically, then up pops another one, because it's not like they're, they're unique. There's lots of newspapers out there that are pretty similar, you know, and they're kind of whatever slot in the political spectrum, if that's what you care about. But they have preferences. And, you know, to me, like, I don't know that there's anything particularly notable in the New York Times, except they're the most popular, maybe, maybe not, I don't know, the in the kind of the social circles that I work in, or live in the New York Times was probably the most prominent voice, but I don't know like, there are others. I don't really, if I step back for a sec, I don't really see the difference, kind of between them. Am I wrong? Do you think? Or

Mahbod Moghadam:

is it? Well, I think more and more people are seeing it that way. And that's why the New York Times, first of all, they need to stop paying Thomas Friedman 250k a year or whatever ridiculous salary he's making. He should be making like, first of all, you should only get paid on the results of his posts. And overall, someone who's just like blogging their opinions, the most they should be making from that job is like 50k a year. And they can do multiple jobs, because like, you know, Thomas Friedman's job, it takes him a couple hours a week, it's not like he actually has to work full time, he probably just has to go. Well, not he doesn't have to sit in the office anymore. But before Corona, he just had to go sit in the office and pretend he's working, get to go to a bunch of stupid, useless meetings. But his actual work is only a couple couple hours a week of just writing his blog. And that's where crypto is going to take us I think crypto is going to avail now that all of the information is on the internet for free. Now all of the value can go to who it belongs to. Okay, interesting, going, like you know, at first for no reason it was going to the New York, New York Times, then Mark Zuckerberg pulled the rug out from under the new york times now the New York Times isn't getting any more money they got to bail out from the richest man in Mexico who's like an oligarch dictator. So obviously, they can't say anything mean about him. He's basically running their whole cave, just like the the oligarch of Australia is running the Wall Street Journal. I guess that's better than the oligarch of Mexico. He's, he's at least a little bit more of an ethical guy. Actually, I like Murdoch. But still, it's weird that he basically gets to run the Wall Street Journal, just like it's weird that Carlos Slim gets joined the New York Times. So now, so now it all basically just goes to Mark Zuckerberg, and he's worth hundreds of billions of dollars. So now you have Australia, Australia is like, well, that's not fair. If Facebook's making all this money, then you need to give some of the money back to the newspapers. And it's like, on the one hand, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. On the other hand, I actually follow their stupid logic, but it shouldn't only via the newspapers, Facebook should be sharing the wealth with everyone who creates the content. And that's where the decentralization crypto is going to come into play. Right? So then just give Facebook stock, you know, micro payments of Facebook stock to whoever's writing this stuff. And they need to get even smaller micropayments of Facebook stuff to everyone who's reading this stuff. And that's where my second and third companies come into play ever pedia is basically trying to pioneer the crypto method of paying people for writing stuff. And then ozone is trying to pioneer the method of paying people for reading stuff.

David Wright:

How's it going?

Mahbod Moghadam:

It's good. It's good that you know the writing So writing stuff it was hard it was hard to get people to write for crypto because also I think so now I left ever pedia now if I was an app now if I were ever pedia my job would be much, much easier just because crypto is hot again, trying to learn how to use the wallets and stuff. And ever pedia is going really, really well still, you know, I'm not there with the passion anymore, but it's still successful. But then with ozone. It's not right now people are willing to do do stuff. They basically it's a really, really good marketing pitch like this week, we premiered ozone games, where you're playing trivia and then for every question that you get, right? You get compensated. Not that much, but you're getting something. Mark Zuckerberg, so this is the history of this guy thing Google wanted this Google from day one wanted. It's that's why YouTube pays people YouTube's probably the only legit pays people for creating content. Yes. And then Google has something that's like a wannabe ozone. It's called Google Earth. But then nobody uses it. Also, my original blog was on blogger and blogger would let you monetize you wouldn't make any money, but they let you run AdSense on your blog. And then Mark Zuckerberg was the one who put the kibosh on all this stuff, he basically came up with the philosophy that if you're going to pay people like 50 cents an hour or $1 an hour to use the internet, then it makes it feel like work. And it's better to just not pay them at all and make them think of it as a game. And like one way of doing that is by giving them points instead of giving them money, give them points. So that's what genius genius. I always wanted to pay people a genius, I actually got into trouble, I started something called cash genius, where I wanted to give one time payments of 100 bucks to top editors. And then my co founder has gotten the community garden now. Part of it was because I was picking

David Wright:

you're picking the people to get the money. Yeah, they're saying you might be biased.

Mahbod Moghadam:

Yeah. So then now crypto is gonna let this all get systematized and become automatic, it's still gonna be imperfect. But then we can keep on refining it. The same way that Facebook is refining their information algorithms, like you know, getting rid of spam, getting rid of trolls getting rid of abusive stuff. So hopefully, with crypto, you can do that, too.

David Wright:

It feels to me like there's this and this is I don't know how strong of an argument that says but that we have big fear that we as a society have with real decentralization is that there's there's nobody. There's nobody to shoot, right? There's no mean church, there's nobody like, this is one of the personally thinking that the one of the reasons why there's a sense of increasing fascination with the presidency, the United States, at the expense of local state politics, who actually influenced your life probably a little bit more directly, but we are all fixated on the singular kind of like, symbolic, right, the owner of the result, whatever it is, you know, the economy influences presidential elections. So the research goes and like the President has all that, you know, real much influence on it. And we like that, like true decentralization is this faceless, amorphous, kind of like, non thing, right? And it's like, it just sort of happens, which is, you know, let's face it, like our kind of puny human minds be able to perceive the complexity of the world, much less the economy, you know, like, we don't know, have any idea what happens or why it happens, but we like to learn self stories. And we're like having, you know, a, you know, assigning causation to some agent, right? And, you know, you picking, right, I feel like you're picking the winners, which is kind of a New York Times model, right? So you're saying I'm picking the ones that are the best, at least is kind of like less controversial, right? But like, just sort of having the marketplace pick the winners, like, look at the YouTube algorithm, right? So next video comes up, you know, whatever it is, I mean, you know, I wonder how many like fingerprints there are on that now, right? It's not just automated, there's no way it's automated. I mean, that now they're gonna have to have people like taking responsibility for Google searches

Mahbod Moghadam:

like that, too. It's a Mechanical Turk. They pretend it's sure in but they're actually doing all this stuff behind the scenes themselves.

David Wright:

Yeah, because that's what like, in a certain weird sense, that's what the world wants. The world wants Google take control of that, because then they want to be able to like, form a mob and storm the castle and pull out the you know, the whoever's in charge and chop off his head. Genius basically had

Mahbod Moghadam:

to switch our model from from social media to media, because the rappers were like, No, I don't want to explain the meaning to the of my lyrics myself. I want you guys to bring me into the studio and ask me what my lyrics means. Same reason. So like, you know, a lot of times when I was talking to get an ever pedia page, they're like, oh, but It's not as good as an ever pedia page as a Wikipedia page because with the Wikipedia page, I deserve it. So you know, because they choose selectively Sure. Like, it just shows that humanity does have a slave mentality. And that's why we need a galleon synthesis. There's not going to be pure decentralization. Satoshi is an anarchic an article libertarian, you want to ask centralization. That's what it is to be anonymous, and it's not going to work out. That's why that's why we need a theory aetherium vitalik is going to be the leader. Eventually, if Mark Zuckerberg sees my vision, he decides to decentralize space, Facebook the way I want him to. Zuck is still going to be the leader. And he's still going to be a billionaire. What I want is, instead of him having $100 billion, I want him to have $10 billion, and then 90 billion goes to the Facebook users. Or if it's like Howard Zinn, it's basically just like, how much are you going to give me just so that I don't start a revolution, he can keep 90 billion, and just give 10 billion to the community. You know, that's the minimum. Like, that's really the least he could do. Like if so basically, if he wants to actually be a good guy, he redesigns it so that he keeps 10 billion and 90 billion goes to the community, if he wants to be a Howard Zinn type bad guy, and just let off the steam. So there's not going to be a revolution. He keeps the 90 billion and he gives 10 billion to the community. Or somewhere in between, maybe he keeps 50 billion and he gives 50 billion to community, something like that. But then it should be 100 billion for him and zero for the community. That's just insane. Well, if you started ozone, he was an executive at Facebook. That's where he came up with this idea. He was making a lot of money executive at Facebook. And he basically felt bad. He's like, we're ripping off all these people who are working for us for free.

David Wright:

I don't want to I think about like, an Apple product develop any kind of like, I don't know, like body of knowledge, you get to think about what's the riskiest assumption behind the business or some kind of innovation, right? It seems to me that the riskiest assumption behind crypto is that we don't actually want our control. Right. You said strong kind of word slave mentality. I feel like that that exists. People want to think for themselves for the most part, but they also do want to have, they want to have an authority figure that they can hate. And kind of weird way, right? Somebody to blame. And that feels good to blame somebody. And I just wonder what we how, what do we do with that energy, if we don't have somebody to blame?

Mahbod Moghadam:

Also the blame but the positive side of that is sometimes you want someone who's more articulate than you representing things that you agree with

David Wright:

great point.

Mahbod Moghadam:

Oh, Republic's work like that's, you know, we don't have direct democracy, we pick elected officials. And then with stocks, unless you're an activist shareholder, usually you just have someone voting for you by proxy. But sometimes you can be selective of the proxy crypto and stuff like that, like ever pedia is pioneering that stuff. Like, you know, all of your IQ people rolled IQ tokens getting votes, but they can assign their votes over to someone who's active. So then it becomes sort of like a republic. Voting type stuff.

David Wright:

Isn't it amazing. It's something occurred to me as I was, like, kind of digging into the crypto world a couple of years ago is that it really is like a social science. It's a social innovation like that. You think about the technology that sits behind aetherium. Like, under any objective assessment of the I know the speed of computing, and it sucks like me, you can't do anything technologically with that right now. But what you can do is you can kind of build these governance institutions you can build, like the rules for we have to live by, and then if you can't change them once they're in, like, that's a that's a social science, innovation. That's not a technology thing.

Mahbod Moghadam:

That's incredible to me, actually, no, the crypto The, the tech, the tech is already there. But we have people trying to figure out the best ways to design the architecture. Like Brock Pierce, he's one of the big guys who's behind ever pedia is thinking ever pedia got a lot of our inspiration from Steam. It was like the first real legit crypto community with traction. Unfortunately, it fell apart but it's a harbinger of of what's what's getting ready to come.

David Wright:

So over a minute left or so my book, maybe you can tell us anything you'd like to promote to say Where can we find you on the internet? How should people seek you out if they're interested in what you're up to

Mahbod Moghadam:

messaging me from Instagram is good. That's probably the best way to hit me up. And hopefully, you'll want to use my products you'll want to join. This is very exciting. I think Mark Zuckerberg was wrong if you give people so one thing that crypto has made me realize is you only need to give people a small stake. As soon as you give them a small stake, they become part of your team. Like I know people who have invested $500 in Bitcoin. But now they're suddenly like obsessed with Bitcoin because it's fun. They want to be part of a game. It's still a game, but they just want to root for someone who they actually have a logical reason to root for. Yeah, that's why I think Mark Zuckerberg was wrong. People think that getting paid for the internet is work if you pay them in dollars, but it actually makes it even more fun game for them if you pay them in stock, especially if the stock is paid out, like IQ points, that they're just points you get. So that's what I'm all about. I want people who want to play my game. It's a fun game, like oh, zones game, straight up fun. You're just playing a fun trivia game. It's like something that people do at parties, like you know, drink drinking stuff. But then you also get these points, and the points are worth money. But then the money goes up and down, depending on how well the system you're playing the game in is doing. And I think that is actually going to motivate people a lot more so. Zack, Zack was totally wrong, you know, mad respect for you, Zack, but the problem was you were right, that you shouldn't be paying people in dollars, but you should be paying people on Facebook stock. Like I was one of the earliest users of Facebook. I was on Facebook when it was only Ivy League schools. And I was one of the first people who was just going nuts on Facebook, creating a lot of content trolling, leaving mad comments, all this stuff. I deserved some Facebook echo me I own Facebook equity because I bought it. But the day that all I already have mad respect for Zack for what I went, I'll have ultimate respect for Zack is when he comes up to me and he gives me millions of dollars in Facebook stock. Just as a thank you for being one of the people who built up the site over the past. What is it been like 1616 years?

David Wright:

Well, I'm not sure hold your breath for that. I but but i

Mahbod Moghadam:

i you know, so you know, we've got the Twitter guy, Twitter, I hate the Twitter guy. But he's doing great, great stuff. He wants to make Twitter decentralized. He wants to do to Twitter what I want to do to Facebook. So if Twitter does it, then I think that's gonna make Zach do it too. And I think he's a good man. Like, he doesn't he's not good at expressing himself. It's kind of hard for him to to speak. He's got the opposite problem that I have. And you're very shy. It's so hard for him to be a public figure. Like he even got bothered by me taking his photo and putting it on our Instagram. But I ultimately believe he's a good guy. I don't think that he's doing it for the money. His family's already rich. I think he's doing because he wants to improve the world. And I do think that he's passionate about crypto. So once he sees where it's going, he's going to decentralized Facebook. That would be my dream come true. I'll spend even more time on Facebook and Instagram than I already do just trying to earn my Facebook coins.

David Wright:

All right, my brother Moghadam. Thanks very much.

Mahbod Moghadam:

It's a pleasure. Thanks so much.